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Stones to Strings: a Story of Hope

If you remember the first intifada, you probably remember this photo of a young Palestinian boy throwing rocks.
ramzi abu radwan.jpg
It was taken in 1988 somewhere around Ramallah and became an icon. Posters of the little rock thrower were sold in the West Bank. The Palestinian Writers' Association put the photo on the cover of a poetry anthology that it published later that year, titled "Creations of the Stone."

Children like the one in the photo immediately became the heroes of the Arab world in the late 1980s. The famous Arab poet Nizar Qabbani wrote an emotional ode to the "Children of the Stone," who, as he put it, did more to advanced the Arab cause and bring pride to the Arab world than all the Arab leaders and armies had done since 1948.

But while the Arab poets and pundits gushed in exultation, Palestinian parents in the West Bank were beside themselves. Their stone-throwing children were risking their lives on the streets and alleyways of the West Bank. Palestinian children were growing up in a culture of violent struggle and brutality. And they were not going to school. In 1988, almost all West Bank schools were closed for about eight out of the nine months of the school year. Most of the 1988-1989 school year was also lost. Even when schools were open, students were often pressured to abandon their desks and go out to clash with soldiers.

The second intifada broke when the children of the first intifada were turning into young adults. I remember talking with Palestinian parents and teachers at the time about a "lost generation," scarred beyond remedy by violence and strife, consumed by hatred and vengeance.

Given that most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were born after 1987, into a reality of on-again off-again violent strife, the potential impact of this generation's scars are obvious.

Certainly, these scars show. But many of those who had predicted societal doom twenty years ago or ten years ago would today tell you that the society of the West Bank - and even that of the Gaza Strip - are healthier than predicted by experts.  

I thought about this after listening to Sandy Tolan's excellent NPR story about Ramzi Aburedwan.

 Thirty-year-old Aburedwan is the little boy of the iconic 1988 photo.

And the refreshing story is that the poster boy of 22 years ago did not grow up with a rock or with a gun in his hand, but rather with a viola. Furthermore, he has tuned into a visionary musician and social activist, who has leveraged his contacts with famed musicians worldwide to open nine music schools in the West Bank and one in Lebanon.

Here is a photo of Aburedwan with his viola at age 18, ten years after he became the poster boy for the "Children of the Stone."ramzi stones and viola.jpg

Like Aburedwan, Palestinian society, at least in the West Bank, is making strides in efforts to put the legacy of violent struggle behind and build itself as a future state.

Under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, Palestinians are working toward the realization of a two-state solution, which would benefit not only their own society but is also an existential necessity for a future Jewish and democratic Israel.

Aburedwan's story is one of hope, for Palestinians and Israelis alike.